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Sabres Win Game, Confidence, Quote War

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On February 15th, the Sabres were 15th in the East, and 10 points out of the top 8.

No team has ever come from that far back to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the lockout. (EDIT: the Sabres are looking to become the first team in NHL history to be in last place in the conference in January and make the playoffs.) Now, just over a month after dwelling at rock bottom, the Sabres have tied the Capitals for 8th place. (OK, officially they’re in 9th. Both teams have secured 82 points, but Washington holds all the tiebreakers.)

So how did we get here?

1. Ryan Miller. He’s quietly amassed 5 shutouts over his last 23 games (going back to February 1st), tying him for the NHL lead with Ilya Bryzgalov. He hasn’t lost in regulation since March 5th. Since the All Star break, he has a 14-3-5 record, a 2.02 GAA, and a .932 save%. He’s back, and he summed up his success and the team’s surge perfectly for ESPN:

Goalie reflects team. Team reflects goalie.

WaxOnWaxOff 300x273 Sabres Win Game, Confidence, Quote War

Wax on, wax off. Paint the fence. Miller is owning the Zen power, and the crease.

Once I was healthy I started building back my focus and awareness, and that took some time. … I noticed my game turning when my mind was more at ease and I settled down and allowed the play to unfold. … All of which came when we started being a more responsible team. Knowing my guys are around me allows me to read the play and commit to saves. Without them, I have to cover more options, and the odds of making a save or second save aren’t as good. Having the boys cover my back and work hard makes my job easier.

Top-seeded teams are no doubt taking notice of Miller’s play, along with the Sabres’ overall defensive revival. No one wants to face a Sabres team this focused in their own zone (see: New York Rangers, March 23rd,3rd period, unable to score as Ehrhoff and Roy played back-up netminders to Miller as the Rags could only shoot in vain.)

2. The Sabres are scoring again, in droves. Travis Turnbull became the 29th Sabre to find the back of the net this season – Columbus leads the league with 30. To put that in better perspective, Buffalo has had goals from 30 players three times in 41 seasons, most recently in the 1991-92 season. Meanwhile, there’s that red hot 82-63-21 line. In the past 7 games alone, Tyler Ennis has 5 goals for 12 points and is a +12. Drew Stafford has 4 goals for 12 points and is a +10. Marcus Foligno has 5 goals for 9 points and is a +7.

Ennis Stafford Foligno 300x204 Sabres Win Game, Confidence, Quote War

Too bad the name "Production Line" is already taken.

 

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Stats aside, there’s some new intrigue emerging here, and it’s all in the quotes, which Miller started us off with. Here’s a couple lines from Tyler Ennis after tonight’s win:

I think we’re just really confident. We know what we have to do. It seems like Washington keeps winning, so we have to keep winning. But we’re a confident bunch. Every game is a new test for us. We just have to focus on the next game. We’re playing well, Millsy seems to be stopping everything and that’s giving us a lot of confidence.

It reinforces how bad we want to make the playoffs. The Rangers are the top team in the East, and they’ve played great hockey all year. We came out and played pretty sound in all areas, and I think it shows how bad we want to make the playoffs.

As for that team they’re tied for 8th with? Let’s leave it to Karl Alzner to sum up how things are in the Caps’ locker room right now, after blowing a 3-0 lead en route to an OT loss to Winnipeg:

We s*** the bed.

As for that team we’re now chasing for 7th? The Senators just allowed 3 goals in the opening 5:41 to Eric Cole and his 15th place Habs. The Sens’ shoddy goaltending has them reeling in what looks like a death spiral. They’re just 1-3-2 in their last 6 games. Here’s what coach Paul MacLean had to say about his team’s troubles before the puck dropped against the Habs:

We’re still in the top third of the league as far as goals scored are concerned. That’s something that gives us the confidence we’re going to score goals again. Something has to spark it. Usually it’s the power play that gets it going. Then somebody gets hot, and away you go, you’re scoring goals again. We believe we’re going to score goals, and it’s going to be tonight.

Oopsy.

The Sens went on to fall 5-1.

But let’s not stop there. Even the almighty Bruins are a wreck of late. Since February 1st, they are just 10-14-1. The Bruins are 5 points up and have two games in hand over Buffalo, but heck, they have to play 9 games in the next 15 days – once every two days – with their last game against  (you guessed it) the Sabres. Here’s what Tim Thomas had to say, after a 2-1 defeat in San Jose:

We’re having a hard time picking up momentum, and keeping it for long periods of time. We proved recently what kind of game we can play. If you asked me before this game, I would have thought we’d carry it over. I thought after our last game we had turned a corner.

Hopefully we still have.

Keep hoping, Tim. Boston hasn’t won 3 games in a row since a 7 game winning streak waaaaay back in December. They’ve lost four straight road games, the longest such streak in three years, and dropped five of the last six away from TD Garden.

Yeah, it’s safe to say that there is a lot of turmoil in the NE Division right now. Meanwhile, Buffalo is surging, and carries a strong 12-5-4 record in the NE.

How much of your brain is saying “Whoa there!” at all this blunderbuss? Chances are a good portion of your mind is actually saying “We have a legit shot at the division.” That’s what happens when confidence is brimming. It makes fans and players alike envision victory.  The Sabres look to have the guts and the gusto to do just that, as this division and conference stumble alongside them.

Simply put: envision it to win it.

The Sabres have 7 games left to prove that their confidence, and this heroic run, is for real. But right now, it sure feels like they’ve got the sharpest edge on the ice, and in the locker room.

“How did we get here?”

That doesn’t matter anymore, does it? All that matters now is where are we going next – be it the NE Division crown or just a spot in the Top 8. It really doesn’t matter which, so long as the Sabres just keep pace with themselves.

Go Sabres.

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Stoking The Flames Of the Sabres/Senators Rivalry

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The Buffalo Sabres face off against the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night – the third game of the season against them. I feel that “hate” is sort of a strong word for a sporting event, but I think we have a pretty heated rivalry going and think it might be fun to stoke those flames a little more.

Ottawa isn’t doing great this year, but they’re doing a heck of a lot better than last year when they finished last in the Northeast division with a 32-40-10 record and 74 points. This year they’re a respectable 13-13-4 and 30 points, on pace for 90 points for the year – but are a -14 overall.

The Sabres have won first two games against Ottawa, one in regulation and one via shootout, but surely the Senators smell blood in the water with all the recent injuries to our boys. It’s no playoff game but pretty important as the Sabres sit at 32, only two points ahead of Ottawa in the division. And the Sabres have to keep pace with reawakened Boston and out-of-nowhere Toronto.

If we needed a pump up video, this one couldn’t get any more better (and yeah, I’m aware of the inherent grammar badness in that sentence) – the 2007 brawl where Marty Biron bravely took on Ray Emery:

I know, I linked it Saturday, but I could watch this over and over.

Ok, enough fisticuffs. Howsabout a pretty goal? Pominville’s OT game winner in the the 2005-2006 playoffs against Ottawa sent the Sabres into the Eastern Conference Finals against Carolina. That didn’t quite go our way, but that goal was a sweet capper of a hard-fought series:


A shorthanded goal in game seven to win it? Those Ottawa fans cannot like us. It’s nice to be on the better side of at least some rivalries lately.

Now for the stories of several Sabres fans and how they felt in the moment that goal was scored. Hockey Heaven put together some great clips of fan reaction years later. Roll the highlight reel:

The origin of the classic call: “Oh, now do you believe? Now do you believe? These guys are good, scary good.”

You may want to watch any or all of the above again right before the game for full effect.

Let’s Go Buff-a-lo!

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The Vanek Set Play: A Sabres GIF Gift (And an Early Look at the NE Division)

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*We’re making this post “sticky” today in honor of Thomas Hockey God Vanek vs. the Habs. Man. This GIF: ALL. DAY. LONG. Go get ‘em, boys.

 

The list of 2011-12 GIFs has begun.

Thanks to Paul Gaustad, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and of course, Carey Price’s inability to contain his inertia on the ice, we have our first winner GIF of the season.

“The Vanek Set Play” will undoubtedly make our 2011-12 GIFs of the Season, but why wait? Let’s enjoy it now.
 The Vanek Set Play: A Sabres GIF Gift (And an Early Look at the NE Division)

It looks even better in slo-mo:
 The Vanek Set Play: A Sabres GIF Gift (And an Early Look at the NE Division)

It doesn’t get any easier looking than that. But bear in mind, this set play wasn’t a fluke. It was a play that the team had actually been practicing.

Meanwhile, this game-winner also set a historical marker. From the Montreal Gazette:

Montreal Canadiens haven’t started this badly at home since 1938

And that’s just the title! The Habs are in an early season struggle, and Vanek’s goal was a dagger in the heart of Montreal’s effort to get back to their winning ways. Again, from the Gazette:

The chance to end the winless-in-Montreal-since-April-26 skid comes Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The time to pounce is now, against a team that must surely be distracted planning its Stanley Cup parade.

Indeed, the Northeast Division is Bizarro World right now – the Leafs are atop everyone with a nearly flawless 4-0-1 record. Buffalo is a solid second – for now – at 4-1-0. Montreal’s 1-3-1 record has them ahead of the pitiful Senators (1-5-0) by one measly point. If that’s not enough, Boston is just one measly point atop Montreal, at 2-4-0. Sure, the Leafs have yet to play an away game, but the all-important goals for/goal against ratio tells no lies.

NEStandings 300x81 The Vanek Set Play: A Sabres GIF Gift (And an Early Look at the NE Division)

Remember the old adage: “You know it’s Spring when the Leafs are out of the playoff picture.” We’ll see.

It seems strange to say that Montreal is entering must-win territory just 5 games into the regular season, but with Toronto in town for a 4 point swing, it’s their best chance to start reversing this reversal of fortunes in the Northeast.

Vanek’s goal was a shocking upset for Montreal fans, but as it turns out, it wasn’t a fluke. As the GF/GA ratio shows us, neither are the Bizarro standings.

For now.

Keep practicing those set plays, boys!

Go Sabres.

See also: “Top Ten 2010-11 Sabres GIFs,” “Sabres GIFs: Back by Popular Demand

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